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Sunday Favorites: Where and What was Pine Level?


History unfolds like a captivating saga, where some locales fade into obscurity while others stand tall as enduring symbols of human resilience.  This is the story of Pine Level, a township once full of promise and potential.

On January 9, 1855, Hillsborough County split, forming early Manatee County. Because of its populace and popularity, the Village of Manatee, a quaint community nestled near present-day east Bradenton, was chosen as the county seat. But as more families settled in the area, the landscape of Manatee County began to shift.

Pioneers forged paths into the heartland, and communities sprung up along rivers and creeks, populating the countryside with towns like Fort Winder, Joshua Creek, and Nocatee. Yet, for those inhabiting these eastern reaches of the county, including the Peace River Valley area, the Village of Manatee proved to be a distant outpost, prompting a needfor a more centrally located seat, according to “A History of Arcadia and Desoto County” by George         Lane Jr.

On April 29, 1866, records indicate that the county seat was ceremoniously designated to the Southewest Quarter of Section 22, Township 37 S, Range 23 B, and given the name "Pine Level." Against a backdrop of untamed wilderness teeming with panthers, bears, wolves, and wildcats, Pine Level burgeoned into a bustling hub of activity.

Pine Level is most associated with a notorious event – the trial of the Sarasota Vigilantes' murders – which captivated the nation's attention in March 1885 and again six weeks later. Scores of spectators, alongside journalists from far-flung corners of the country, descended upon Pine Level, bearing witness to a gripping saga that unfolded amidst the backdrop of Florida's untamed frontier.

Yet, Pine Level was not the sole beacon of civilization in Manatee County's expanse. By the 1870s, the venerable town of Fort Ogden had blossomed into a prosperous community, its roots tracing back to its stint as a temporary military fortification – Camp Ogden – established in the late 1840s by the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole Indian War. Transitioning seamlessly into a bustling trading post, Fort Ogden emerged as a place of commerce, boasting stores, churches, a post office, and even a bank by the dawn of the 1920s, according to Lane.

By the 1860s, the Joshua Creek region had become home to some of the earliest pioneer families in the area. It is believed that the Union Church, constructed during the same period, marked the county's first church building. Situated at the northwest corner of the Joshua Creek cemetery, this log structure later doubled as the region's earliest schoolhouse.

In the late 1870s, Arcadia emerged as a modest settlement atop the bluff overlooking the Peace River. The body of water was originally known as Peas or Pease Creek. Initially dubbed "Tater Hill Bluff," the settlement was formally named Arcadia upon the establishment of a post office on November 19, 1883. Just three years later, on December 6, 1886, the town of Arcadia achieved official incorporation.

Over time, Pine Level’s prosperity declined after the county seat was relocated to Arcadia in 1888. Today, both  Pine Level  and Fort Ogden are considered  ghost towns. Mostly deserted, only a few remnants of the past, including a cemetery, some abandon buildings and historical markers - a solemn reminder of what they once were.

Arcadia still retains its small-town charm while offering a blend of rural and suburban living. It's known for its historic downtown, with preserved architecture, quaint shops, and local eateries. The city hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, celebrating its heritage and community spirit. Overall, it's a welcoming community with a relaxed pace of life, appealing to both residents and visitors alike and a reminder of what Florida was once like.


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  • klmsinc

    A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith and the The Singing River by Joe Warner are excellent books for the history of Manatee and Southern Florida. As you mentioned Fort Ogden and Fort Winder, there is a lot of history there in times and in people and the spread of the railroads, names that still exist in Manatee County. I once saw an archival picture of Pine Level when it was the County seat and the Law Offices lined Florida Avenue, with a school, and church.

    Thank you for the reminder and to quote Henry Parrish, "If you want to get rid of people in this area, get rid of mosquito control and air conditioning."

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